It wasn't the start Dalton High School coach Matt Cheaves envisioned as his boys' soccer program went after its sixth GHSA state championship, but it might have turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the Catamounts.
Johns Creek forced a turnover and capitalized with a Kameron Gorst goal barely three minutes into the Class AAAAAA title match Friday night at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, but once awakened the Catamounts were relentless with three consecutive goals for a 3-2 win.
"That early goal woke us up and let us know our opponent was very strong," Cheaves said.
It was the third state championship in two days for boys' soccer teams from Whitfield County, with Coahulla Creek (AAA) and Southeast Whitfield (AAAA) winning titles Thursday and Dalton's second consecutive championship.
Gorst knocked home an easy goal after the early turnover past Dalton keeper Nestor Mendez, giving the Gladiators a quick lift but also seemingly waking up the Catamounts (20-0-2). Dalton dominated the rest of the first half, putting together several good possessions before Fernando Guerrero scored his 11th goal of the season on a short chip in the 14th minute.
Most of the rest of the half was played in Johns Creek territory, which paid off for Dalton when Filemon Quintero, after two acrobatic saves by C.J. Wyborn, rifled a rebound that was ruled a goal when a defender hit the ball inside the goal.
That momentum carried over to the start of the second half when Dalton used a long pass from Yahir Paez off the opening kick to score when Zeke Ortiz easily got behind a shocked defense and beat Wyborn without trouble for a 3-1 edge.
The Gladiators (16-3-2) regrouped to control possession for most of the half and cut their deficit to one when Gorst scored his 19th goal of the season as he went all the way down the left side with 15:56 remaining. Dalton withstood a late barrage of attacks, including a Noel Sanguinetti blast that hit the crossbar with just less than seven minutes left, to win the title.